The outgoing president of Burundi has died of a sudden illness, suspected by many to be Covid-19.
The cause of Pierre Nkurunziza’s death was described as a heart attack in a government statement. The 55-year-old was due to stand down in August following elections last month.
It was unclear exactly when he died. A government statement said the president, a keen sports enthusiast, had attended a game of volleyball on Saturday but fell ill that night and was taken to hospital.
The former footballer’s health improved on Sunday but “surprisingly, on morning of Monday June 8, 2020, his health suddenly deteriorated and he had a heart attack”. The statement described Nkurunziza’s death as “unexpected” and asked people to remain calm. Seven days of mourning have been announced.
Nkurunziza had refused to impose restrictions in the small and poor African country, allowing sporting events and mass political rallies to go ahead.
Speculation about the cause of his death has been fuelled by unconfirmed reports that his wife was flown to Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, 10 days ago after contracting Covid-19.
Authorities in Burundi have been accused of deliberately playing down the threat posed by the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected 197,000 people on the African continent and killed more than 5,000.